Get ready for mammoth national parks, dynamic Māori culture, and world-class surfing and skiing. New Zealand can be mellow or action-packed, but it’s always epic.
Walk on the Wild Side
There are just 4.8 million New Zealanders, scattered across 268,021 sq km: bigger than the UK with one-fourteenth of the population. Filling in the gaps are the sublime forests, mountains, lakes, beaches and fiords that have made NZ one of the best hiking (locals call it ‘tramping’) destinations on the planet. Tackle one of the epic ‘Great Walks’ – you might’ve heard of the Heaphy and Milford Tracks – or spend a few hours wandering along a beach, paddling a canoe or mountain biking through some easily accessible wilderness.
NZ’s all-conquering All Blacks would never have become back-to-back rugby world champions without their unstoppable Māori players. But this is just one example of how Māori culture impresses itself on contemporary Kiwi life: across NZ you can hear Māori language, watch Māori TV, join in a hāngi (Māori feast) or catch a cultural performance with song, dance and a blood-curdling haka (war dance). Māori design continues to find expression in tā moko, Māori tattooing (often applied to the face) and the delicate artistry of bone, shell and pounamu (greenstone) sculpture.
The Real ‘Big Easy’
NZ isn’t a place where you encounter many on-the-road frustrations: buses and trains generally run on time; main roads are in good nick; ATMs proliferate; pickpockets, scam merchants and bedbug-ridden hostels are few and far between; and the food is unlikely to send you running for the nearest public toilets (usually clean and stocked with the requisite paper). And there are no snakes, and only one poisonous spider – the endangered katipo. This decent nation is a place where you can relax and enjoy (rather than endure) your travels.
Food, Wine & Beer
British-influenced classics like fish and chips aren’t going anywhere, but NZ gastronomy has come a long way, baby. Chefs in Auckland, Wellington and Napier borrow influences from as far afield as South Pacific islands and Western Europe for creative takes on locally sourced lamb and seafood like abalone, oysters and scallops. Meanwhile, the vegetarian and vegan food scenes grows evermore prominent and inventive. Wash it all down with coffee culture, an edgy craft-beer scene and legendary cool-climate wines (like sublime sauvignon blanc and pinot noir).